Honoring “Mister K” : Lunenburg’s Calvin King reflects on his career

Published 12:26 pm Thursday, October 19, 2023

Gospel. Rhythm & Blues. Top 40. There aren’t too many types of music Calvin King hasn’t worked with over more than 50 years. The history maker and Lunenburg County native has seen a lot through his time in radio and contributed even more. Now “Mister K” is being honored for that work next week, recognized for his contributions to the region beyond Lunenburg. 

The Henrico County Board of Supervisors is recognizing King, one of the state’s first Black radio personalities, at its Oct. 24 meeting.

“That’s to recognize my contributions in the Richmond radio market during the last nearly 50 years,” King said. “I worked at four different radio stations in the Richmond area — three in Richmond and one in Petersburg.”

Calvin King gets started

It all started at home, in Lunenburg County. King was always talkative, he says, even before radio. While a student at Lunenburg High School, he would emcee talent shows. 

During his summer break in college, Mister K got his start at South Hill’s WJWS-FM in 1971. As a result, he became the first Black deejay in Mecklenburg County history.  

King recalls the station owners decided his show would “help the culture” and bring “positive influences” to the airwaves as things were changing on the racial front locally and across the nation.

“I did that every summer until I graduated,” he said. “It was super exciting for me. I had big fun, big fun with that.”

King’s time at the South Hill station was just the start for his career. “I’ve had some wonderful opportunities,” he said. This included an internship at a Baltimore radio station owned by the famous James Brown.

After graduation, King took a job as a part-time deejay for WENZ-AM in 1974 and later moved to a full-time position at Top-40 station WSSV in Petersburg for about six months. He then moved to WANT in Richmond, where he spent 10 years.

“At WANT, I served as news director and also did a part-time deejay shift,” he said. “After I stopped working full-time at WANT, I worked part time … at Power 93-FM WCDX.” 

Calvin King

A photo from 1992 when Calvin King worked at Power 93 in Richmond, one of several stations he’s called home over the years.

Working in a variety of formats

During his career, King deejayed in a variety of formats. He also shared his deejaying talents throughout the region.

“I was very active in the club scene and in the streets,” King said.

This led him to open Mister K’s Island in Kenbridge in 1982. The club incorporated a Bahamian theme and décor at its Broad Street location in downtown.

While he opted to not renew the lease there in 1983, he said he moved his club through several counties to avoid being tied down in one location. 

“That way you don’t get burned out staying in the same place too long,” King said.

He also continued with his appearances at events in the region. Locally, these included programs at Peoples Community Center in Victoria, the VFW Hall in Mecklenburg County, and the Blackstone Memorial Center.

“I used to do some work at Ernie’s Disco in Farmville back in the 80s and 90s. Today it’s called Beavers,” King said, along with appearances at the Elk’s Lodge in Farmville during the 1980s.

In addition to providing entertainment for audiences, he was also committed to providing coverage of news important to the community.

King became a contributor providing coverage for the National Black Network, which operated from 1972 through 1995. This part of his career began while working at WANT, but continued after he left the station.

King recalls his first big story for NBN was the breakout of death row inmates at the Mecklenburg Correctional Center. Another big story for him was coverage on the election of Douglas Wilder as the state’s first Black governor. He noted he broadcast a half-hour interview with Wilder for the network.

Destined to deejay

As a young man, Calvin King said he always knew he wanted to work in radio. 

As a child, he recalls taking his transistor radio outside and holding it up to the meter box while living in Lunenburg County to pull in WANT from Richmond.

Deejays there and at many other stations he picked up helped him develop his style and prepare for his successful career.

In Richmond, Mr. C at WANT was one of his favorite deejays. “He was really a smooth deejay,” he said, adding that he had a great voice and a lot of “jive about him.”

Other influences came from Nashville, Tennessee and Baltimore, Maryland. 

King said he enjoyed getting to listen to Paul L. Johnson, known as Fat Daddy, on WSID from Baltimore.

“I’m going to listen to the best and maybe I can learn something from him,” he said, looking back at how he picked those he listened to. “I picked up a lot of stuff from Fat Daddy.”

When he visited cousins in Baltimore, he also recalls listening to Kirby Carmichael, whom he later got to work with at WANT.

King said he got to meet Carmichael during a 1968 visit to Baltimore during an appearance at a record shop in Edmonson Village.

Carmichael then joined WANT in Richmond in 1975.

King recalls that Carmichael told him that working in radio was “having fun and having a party” and getting paid for it.

Another deejay that influenced King was John R on WLAC in Nashville.

“I listened to that deejay and radio station from the time my parents used to turn it on at night,” he said.

The 50,000-watt AM station reached 26 states and as far away as Canada and Central America with its tower located high atop Lookout Mountain in Tennessee.

He said he listened to John R until he retired in 1973.

He also listened to The Moon Man on WIKI in Chester, along with Chuck McCool when living in Lunenburg.

 “That’s how I learned a lot about the style that I wanted to emulate and incorporate into my sound,” he said.

Calvin King: A first in hip hop

King said he is now working on a documentary that will show he was the first to bring hip hop and rap to the radio.

“I was doing a combination of hip hop and rap on the radio in 1971, which was two years before they said it was created in America,” he said, noting the celebration honoring 50 years of hip hop isn’t accurate and that he’s got the tapes to prove it.

“At 10:45 every night, I created a segment and titled it Mister K Rap. I rapped for five minutes of my show every night because I know the people had never heard anything like that,” he said. This featured an instrument blend mixed with “The Real Thing” by the Electric Express.

“I knew people would love it and if I saved it until the end of the show they’d be there with me all night to catch that,” King said. “They’re trying to give this guy credit for starting hip hop in 1973.”

Mister K said his documentary will show he started hip hop and rap. 

The Sugar Hill Gang is said to have had the first rap song in 1979 with their tune, “Rapper’s Delight.”

Giving audiences something new

King said his goal was to always give his audiences something they haven’t been exposed to, which is how his hip hop and rap mix began at South Hill.

He plans to work with the media department in Henrico County Administrator’s Office to spread the word on this milestone.

As the county prepares to honor him for his contributions to the community, King said there are a number of people from Lunenburg and Mecklenburg counties planning to attend the Henrico County ceremony Tuesday, Oct. 24.

Those who can’t make it to the 7 p.m. meeting can watch the live stream on the Board of Supervisors website at Henrico.us. The front page of the site has a link to the meeting feed under its quick links section.

Editor’s note: Jeff Moore wrote this piece for the Kenbridge-Victoria Dispatch.